The Chair invited Members to raise items for general discussion arising from the Information Booklet of Executive Member reports, previously circulated, which detailed activities carried out within the respective Executive Member portfolios (Section 1), Executive decisions taken (Section 2), or to be taken where known, prior to and following the meeting (Sections 3 and 4).
Members commented and posed questions in relation to the following matters and Executive Members responded where appropriate.
(a) Orange Pip Market
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Regeneration was congratulated on the creation of the Orange Pip Market. This was a brand new monthly artisan street food market which would be launched on Saturday 28 May 2016 in Baker Street. The Deputy Mayor responded that the Council had a longer term ambition for a larger market and this would be a good start. People were keen to be involved and create a hub of world-wide food offers. The Deputy Mayor hoped the market would continue to grow and develop.
(b) Grove Hill Developer Procurement
A Member commented that the house prices in the Grove Hill area of Middlesbrough had increased recently and asked the Deputy Mayor whether this was due to the Council's interventions. The Deputy Mayor agreed that the Council had played its part in the regeneration of Grove Hill and this could have influenced house prices. The Deputy Mayor added that prices were also fluctuating in other areas of the town.
(c) Best Beginnings
Reference was made to the Best Beginnings Launch, a scheme providing resources to expectant and new parents across South Tees. The Member commented that she looked forward to Middlesbrough providing many more accessible areas for nursing mothers and becoming a more breast-feeding friendly town. The Executive Member for Communities and Public Health fully endorsed the comments made and acknowledged the recent work of the Health Scrutiny Panel in encouraging and promoting breast-feeding, which it appeared had sadly become unfashionable in recent times.
(d) Council Tax Collection - Impact of Government Policy
A Member asked for clarification on the reasons for non payment of Council Tax in Middlesbrough. The Executive Member for Finance and Governance explained that non payment of Council Tax was not just an issue in Middlesbrough but a national problem. The problem was not the willingness or ability of the Council to collect the tax but rather the ability of some of the most financially vulnerable people to pay it. People were not choosing not to pay; they simply did not have the means to do so. Some people had to choose whether to put food on the table, clothe their children or pay their bills. The introduction of the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit and increase in unemployment locally due to the loss of the SSI works had all added to the situation.
(e) OFSTED Single Inspection Framework
The Executive Member for Children's Social Services was congratulated on the recent OFSTED inspection of Children's Services which had judged that Middlesbrough Council had a clear commitment to children and young people and ensured those in its care were safe.
The Executive Member thanked the Member for her comments and added his thanks to all those involved in the care of Middlesbrough's children. The Executive Member went on to highlight several aspects of the inspection report including the positive comments in relation to the Fostering and Adoption Service and the Senior Leaders' and Social Workers' commitment and positivity towards working in Middlesbrough.
An Action Plan in response to the OFSTED report was currently being developed to address the areas for improvement that had been highlighted. These areas included the collection of data and ensuring that children's views were listened to and acted upon. Consultation events were being held to ensure that the views of all those involved in the service were included in the action planning. The Action Plan would be available by the end of April or beginning of May.
The Executive Member was also pleased to report that the Mayor had received a letter from the Minister for Children and Families recognising the good practice in Middlesbrough and congratulating the Authority on the OFSTED inspection.
Finally, the Executive Member wished to place on record his thanks to Neil Pocklington, Assistant Director, Safeguarding, who was retiring from the Authority. Neil had brought stability and good sense to the Authority during the last six years and his leadership had greatly contributed to the strong outcomes identified by OFSTED. Members indicated their agreement that Neil had made a fantastic contribution to both Middlesbrough Council and the children in its care.
(f) Performance Information
It was noted that there were currently 379 children looked after by Middlesbrough Council. A Member asked for a breakdown of how many were in foster placements and how many were in residential care.
The Executive Member confirmed that 49 children were currently in a variety of residential placements in Middlesbrough and also out of area. Approximately 40 children were cared for within their own families, and half the remaining number were cared for by Middlesbrough foster carers and the other half by foster carers from Independent Fostering Agencies.
(g) Tour De Yorkshire Update
A Member congratulated the Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport and all those involved in the preparations for the forthcoming Tour De Yorkshire Stage 3, which would be hosted in Middlesbrough over the May Bank Holiday weekend. The involvement of Community Councils, schools, individuals and other community groups to date was praised and the Member urged everyone to get involved in the event.
The Executive Member agreed that everyone was working hard to make the event a success. As well as the short term benefits, it was hoped that the Tour would provide a long lasting legacy to Middlesbrough in the form of an annual amateur race. The Executive Member was also delighted with the involvement and enthusiasm of so many individuals and organisations. The Executive Member added that the Tour was a fantastic opportunity to showcase everything that was good about Middlesbrough.
It was highlighted that the Council currently owned approximately £18 million worth of art work that was in storage. The Executive Member was asked to give consideration to selling some of this art work and using the receipts to provide counselling and support to children and their families who were suffering the effects of mental health issues.
The Executive Member stated that the two items went hand in hand and art could be used in positive ways to work with those with mental health problems. The Executive Member added that he would rather see the art work used in that way than for it to be sold.
(i) Orange Pip Market
Reference was made to the number of people showing confidence and investing in Middlesbrough. The Member asked whether this type cultural regeneration and refuelling of the town was driving growth and prosperity. The Executive Member agreed that cultural prosperity and economic growth went hand-in-hand. Bedford and Baker Streets and the introduction of the Orange Pip Market were part of that in terms of bringing investment into the town and promoting Middlesbrough as the cultural hub of the Tees Valley.
(j) Southlands Update
A Member stated that he was pleased to see that the Southlands Centre would remain open as a community facility until August 2016. However, in relation to the transfer of the leisure facility to Sports Leisure Management (SLM) on 1 April 2016, the Member voiced concern that some of the current administrative posts had been deleted and the work transferred to SLM's head office in Leicester. The Member asked whether the Executive Member was aware that some staff would lose their jobs and others would be transferred to work in sales.
The Executive Member replied that the Council had worked with SLM to match existing staff with new roles under the new arrangement. With regard to the comments made, the Executive Member agreed to seek further clarification on this issue and refer back to the Member.